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Want to go to Graduate School but Fear a Mountain of Debt?

The high cost of graduate school shouldn't end your dreams of going. Best bet is to approach you finance sensibly and utilize the help that's available. Here is some more advice.

Shaving expenses. Graduate students and aid officers say a few simple strategies can reduce the chances of being saddled with a lifetime of onerous payments. It starts at the very beginning, with the choice of grad school. But even if students don't choose a low-cost school, they can reduce their debt while they are in school by minimizing their expenses and shopping for better rates.

About a third of all schools give their students no choice but to take their loans directly from the federal government, a policy that saves taxpayers money. The rest permit shopping around. Students who limit their searches to their school's preferred lenders may miss the best deals, which may be offered by nonprofits and for-profit upstarts. The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, for example, cuts rates for students all over the country by at least 2 percentage points for on-time automatic payment. (A list of nonprofit lenders can be found at www.efc.org. Another site, www.simpletuition.com, lists competing deals from for-profit companies.)

Grad students can cut borrowing costs further by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to see if they qualify for subsidized Staffords with an additional break. The federal government pays the interest on as much as $8,500 worth of subsidized Staffords each year for needy grad students as long as they stay enrolled. Borrowers can defer payments on the unsubsidized Staffords while they are in school, but the interest adds to the total debt.

After all is said and done, you will have a good amount of money to repay. As long as you make the most of your graduate degree it will be worthwhile.


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